Anger is completely natural—but not easy to manage properly.
As Aristotle put it, “Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.”
As if that is not a big enough challenge, it is the only socially acceptable emotion for men to express. Conversely it has traditionally been considered socially inappropriate for women to express anger resulting in a significant challenge for couples.
Anger is often triggered by the thought or sense that something is unfair. Anger is energizing; the adrenalin released can be felt in the body. Managing our anger involves the actions and decisions we make in response.
What triggers an angry response? There are many possibilities:
The targets can be: our child, our partner, a relative or friend, a school system, a doctor, etc. Guys often don't like to admit being angry. It helps to have some synonyms handy such as: pissed off, grumpy, irritable, irked, impatient, exasperated, miffed, etc.
On August 4, I facilitated an episode of “Guy Talk” at www.autismbrainstorm.org. To hear what these guys had to say click here.
One guy talked about how when he is angry about a situation, he asks himself “what am I sensitive to?” He reflected that in the heat of the moment his thinking cap is off. His child with autism has helped him to look at his own trigger points and sensitivities. He needs someone to tell him to step away and get a grip. He realizes that getting physical is a mirror for his child and the worst thing he can do when his fight or flight reflexes have been triggered.
Another guy tries to be sure he is not angry when disciplining his daughter. He sees discipline as correction and teaching. He remembered how anger can be part of the cycle of grief. He has observed how fathers of children on the spectrum often seem to have anger looking for a target. It could be harder without a target and you go around looking for one.
Another important point was the observation that frustration may be the gateway emotion to anger and awareness that losing control is around the corner. Once someone goes over the line, the ability to identify options gets impaired.
One father shared how he is careful to realize that he is modeling to his children and strives not to model anger. He sees his anger arising when things don't go his way. On the other hand, there are times when you should be angry such as when your kid is getting bullied, and it is good to shake things up by responding in a constructive way.
Another guy grew up as a student in special education. He was bullied and teased relentlessly. Every day he had to watch his back and had no one to turn to. He was confused and angry. Now he has a son with a verbal apraxia, and he is passionate about protecting his son from the torment he went through growing up.
What helps a man? Or a woman for that matter? Telling someone to calm down is the worst thing ever. Letting him or her know he is not the only one who's angry can help in redirecting into a problem-solving mode.
Expressing concern or empathy can also be useful. As one guy put it saying “I get you; I understand you man. That really helps.”
Accepting our feelings, our child, and ourselves is a prerequisite to managing our responses to anger. So for men and women, when noticing anger, take a step back. Stop and think. This may not be easy or come naturally but learning to identify anger as it is arising can help us reel in our impulses and find options for our children and our families.